Many of us come to meditation to get right in our own heads. We may hear things about how healing ourselves can heal the world too. Can that even happen? How? This blog offers a few answers to how meditation can in fact, change the world.
First and foremost? Happy people don’t hurt others. This is a quote from a favorite teacher of mine, and it seems true. Rings true, doesn’t it? If and when we reach a pure type of happiness that’s nestled in contentment and an inner sense of wholeness, we have no need to hurt others, neither purposefully nor unintentionally. When we experience pure happiness, our actions vibe with our open-hearted energy. This is the type of happiness that’s reached through the practice of meditation, and if everyone could calmly abide in this state, well then the world wouldn’t need saving.
Like everything else, we can say “that’ll never happen” and shrug our shoulders. With an “everybody’s doing it so why shouldn’t I” state of mind, we could continue to act negatively, OR…we can work towards changing our minds, and consciously contribute more positive energy to the world around us. Meditation can change you, and it can change the world too. Here’s how:
Meditation Makes Us Happy
One connection between meditation and happiness lies in freedom from distraction. All our lives we are chasing. Chasing thoughts, chasing emotions, and chasing all the things outside ourselves that we think will finally make us happy once we get them. Shiny things and loud things and expensive things, and things that make us scared or thrilled are all grabbing our attention. Mindlessly, we follow, thinking they will lead us to happiness.
Yet as Sogyal Rinpoche famously said in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, “to be free from distraction, is to be free from samsara.” What is samsara? For one thing, it’s the endless cycle of chasing an external happiness in the form of a shiny object. If we get it, we get relief, we get high, we get an impure happiness that exists only for a moment. To be free from the compulsion to chase distraction, to be free from distraction all together, is to be completely a-ok with the present moment. When we are free from distraction we rest in a contentment that comes from feeling complete and happy within.
“Buddha recognized that ignorance of our true nature is the root of all the torment of samsara, and the root of ignorance itself is the mind’s habitual tendency to distraction.
To end the mind’s distraction would be to end samsara itself; the key to this, he realized, is to bring the mind home to its true nature, through the practice of meditation.” – Sogyal Rinpoche
Meditation Increases our Mindfulness
Mindfulness is all the buzz lately. Meditation helps us to be more mindful. To be mindful is to be fully occupied with the present moment, and it’s only in the present moment that we find happiness.
We are mistaken we we think that happiness is somewhere out there in the future. We say things like, “I’ll be happy when…” or “I’ll be happy if…” But happiness can only be experienced right now. The feeling of being lost in the moment, or in the zone, or swept away is a present moment occurrence. What’s more, everything is. Anything outside of the present moment is not an experience, but an idea. And those ideas are mostly make believe.
Our ideas about the past, and what has happened, our ideas about the future and what might happen are all fantasies. For the most part, when our minds are pre-occupied with past or future we are suffering. As we learn to be more mindful of the present moment, we spend more time in the present moment, and we begin to rest more contently in that moment, no matter what.
“Unease, anxiety, stress, tension, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” – Eckhart Tolle
Meditation Deepens our Awareness
When we train our minds to hold to a single point of focus, such as the breath, we’re training concentration, and deepening our capacity for noticing. With a more attuned sense of awareness, we can more clearly see what’s real and what’s not. What’s not real are all our ideas about what other people think about us, or what they think at all, and what we think about others, or what we think at all.
When we’re more clearly attuned to how we receive information, as touch, smell, sight, or intuition for example, we’re more able to question how we judge what it is that we’re touching, smelling, seeing or intuiting. Through meditation we begin to separate our judgements and labels from reality and we notice how much of our unhappiness comes from those same judgements and labels, which are not at all absolute.
Through a heightened state of awareness, we become like a scientist, observing and taking notes on the world around and within us, without applying our own labels or beliefs. This awareness opens us up to a whole new realm of possibility. Possibly, the world is perfect exactly as it is, and every single person, place and action in this world is here for our further awakening, to help us reach an even greater awareness.
Ultimately, our meditation takes us to an awareness so keen, it can be likened to the omniscient state of enlightenment. What does that mean? In the least, it means we’re aware of what will make us happy (freedom from desire), and what doesn’t (fulfilled or unfulfilled desire for external things).
“Perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment and looking upon success and failure with an equal eye. Spirituality implies equanimity.” – The Bhagavad Gita
Meditation Creates Space
Creating space? It sounds like one of those nonsense things yoga teachers say. But try it, it’s true. When we meditate, we take the time to notice. We watch the “thinking” part of our brain with another little “watcher” part of our brain and over time, we begin to see that the “thinking” part of our brain ain’t always that good for us. Over time, we’re able to see “my thoughts” and “my feelings” as energy at play, energy arising and dissipating, and as changing. We’re able to see thoughts and feelings from a distance and rather than identifying with them. We create more space between “thought” and “me.”
In that space, we have time. That space allows us to work out more appropriate reactions to our thoughts, or we decide not to react at all. How many times have we hurt someone by reacting too quickly to a thought, an idea, an emotion? How many times has it been our reaction that has caused us and others great suffering, when to do nothing would have allowed that thought, idea or emotion to change or fade away? Meditation helps us to slow down. And like Neo dodging a bullet in the matrix, we’re able to dodge the poor choices of our own “mindlessly” acting mind.
“The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, “what is” is what we want.” – Byron Katie
Would we be happier if we had the space to be less reactive, and instead more curious, more questioning, more mindful? Yes. Would we be happier if we didn’t hurt others? Yes. It never feels good to be wrong, to move on a misconception, or to yell back at yelling. With meditation, we’re able to pause and count to 10. And that sounds like some nonsense your mother says, but try it, it’s true.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Meditation works to make us happier. It’s not easy, it’s not a straight shot to success and it takes time, but it’s worth a try. Each time we choose to be more present, more mindful, more aware, and more discerning, we are planting a seed, however small, that has potential to bloom into a complete state of wellbeing.
The more we practice in the quiet of our rooms, on our meditation cushions, or with a like-minded and supportive group, the more we’re able to carry the actions of presence, mindfulness, awareness and discernment out into the ‘real world.’
It begins with you, who else is responsible? It should begin now, otherwise when? If each and everyone of us chose pure happiness, each and every one of us would be contributing to a healthier, happier and more loving world.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga and meditation instructor who works every day on becoming happier through play, movement and meditation. Join her in all three, by seeing her schedule of classes and upcoming retreats here.